Writing about Curtis Axel on SmackDown last week made me think of his father Curt Hennig’s Hall of Fame induction, and his wife stating, “Nobody does it better. Nobody.”
Meanwhile, I’ve been corresponding with a really nice person while I work on a column about his wrestling career. Yes, I am being mysterious on purpose. No, it is not Marty Janetty. When I asked what advice he’d give to people like me, spouting opinions about wrestling online, he replied, “Just enjoy it for what it is. Have fun watching it.”
I decided to write about some of the things that make being a WWE fan such a positive experience. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the simple fact that World Wrestling Entertainment puts on a damn good show. Nobody does it better.
Can you imagine how much time, money, and people are required just to erect the sets for each of the weekly TV programs? This is a travelling roadshow, a different town each night, and when the lights go up, that RAW set is impressive every time. You immediately get the feeling you are watching something special. It’s a positive reinforcement for the fans who bought a ticket, and it translates to a highly polished look on TV.
Their developmental program, NXT, has been dressed up with banners featuring Superstar portraits and Pay-Per-View art. It’s like a promise of what’s to come if you work hard (and possess the random lucky horseshoe). Even fans that come out to the small NXT facility and pay a modest fee get a top-notch production. One must also believe that it contributes to the wrestlers’ confidence and performances as well.
I’d like to give a special mention to the Smashing Fist of SmackDown set from a few years ago. It was a memorable, Vince-like atrocity, appearing from 2001-2008. It was retired when the show went to High-Definition.
For Pay-Per-Views, the sets are even more elaborate. I applaud WWE for creating a unique look for each monthly show, sticking to the theme as appropriate, and sparing no expense. The notion of getting what you pay for comes into play here, because in theory you are paying big bucks to see a PPV. The company treats PPV sets with the same consideration that they’d like us to treat their buy rates. Call me a fool, but it does ease the pain of a less-than-stellar card when they’ve built a dazzling set, the pyro pops like it’s a national holiday, and the wrestlers come down that aisle with an extra spring in their step.
My favourite sets in the past have been from the TLC event (floor-to-ceiling unforgiving furniture!), the simple, regal banners heralding Night of Champions, and the transformation of an aging stadium to make WrestleMania 24 a tropical oasis (view-blocking palm trees be damned!).
Even more so than the sets, a wrestler’s entrance music can elicit an emotional reaction. Sometimes your every hope hangs on the opening note of your favourite wrestler’s music, and when it hits, you rejoice.
Every year for WrestleMania, my friend Hilary and I compose Top 5 lists of various wrestling-related topics, then compare answers. (Yes, we are grown women, but at least we’re not out scoring hookers and blow.) One year we debated the Top 5 Entrance Songs, and my number 1 pick was Edge’s theme, “Metalingus” by Alter Bridge. I felt the lyrics of the song suited Edge’s character, and the energy of the music had a contagious effect on the audience when he came out. The words “You think you know me” spoken at the beginning of the song was a sultry nod to his Rated R days.
My number 2 pick was CM Punk’s theme, “This Fire Burns” by Killswitch Engaged. This may cause a debate, but I was disappointed to hear Punk re-emerge to “Cult of Personality”, after his glorious exit during the Summer of Punk. I could understand why they chose “Cult of Personality”, but I didn’t agree with it. It sounded too commercialized for someone who was supposed to be the Voice of the Voiceless.
Neither song was written by WWE’s resident composer, Jim Johnston, who’s been churning out most of their music since 1985. And even though I chose two third-party songs as my favourites, I bet Fandango thanks Jim for composing the viral “Cha-Cha-La-La”. He’s also behind the memorable entrances of The Undertaker and The Rock, and there, I’ve just named three very different performers, whose music we can’t imagine any other way. Bravo to Mr. Johnston for being such an adaptable talent, and clearly a company man!
In Shawn Michaels’ Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he credited a young man named Adam for making him look so good in the video packages. Wrestlers rely on these videos to build their careers, as much as we rely on them to tell stories. But far more than just telling a story, WWE puts together videos that make us feel something. They piece together the informative parts well enough, but then enhance the facts with archival footage, emotional images from the crowd, and well-chosen music. Many of these video packages are like curated pieces of art. Can you remember a video package that had an emotional effect on you?
I can think of many. CM Punk’s “Do I Have Everyone’s Attention Now?” video prior to his match against Cena at Money In The Bank. That one got me so psyched to see the match, that the insanity of the crowd in Chicago brought me to my feet in my living room. Edge’s retirement video made me sob openly. Steve Austin’s Hall of Fame package made me feel oddly proud to have witnessed such an impactful career.
But this is - in my book and others’ – the most creative, well-told story. I wrote a paragraph trying to describe why it’s so good, and then I deleted it. Let’s just enjoy it.
I admit that I hadn’t visited the WWE website much until I started writing for TJR. Not only is it a surprising wealth of information, but also it’s FUN. There’s a lot of self awareness here: for every hard-hitting piece of journalism chronicling Triple H’s struggle, there is a photo set on the WCW Bruise Cruise.
It must be hard to produce a website that has to be all things to such a wide range of people (from wide-eyed kids, to smarking grown-ups). At the same time, they must strike a balance between sharing everything, and protecting certain aspects of their business. Where do you draw the line on disclosure, especially with such a huge corporation?
I think they do it well. I often visit to check in on PPV cards (I can never keep track of what’s going to be on a PPV). And whenever I go to check something, I get sucked down the rabbit hole into “8 Finishing Maneuvers That Run In The Family”. I also learned the history of the SmackDown Fist set while I was looking for a photo. There’s lots to be had here; it’s an excellent space for fans.
You may argue that WWE puts on the biggest show because they have the most money. But we need only look at a Diddy or a Kardashian to see that money does not always make for good choices. For all we can complain about storylines and matches, we cannot say that Vince skimps on showmanship. Pair that with the knowledge that wrestlers are risking their bodies for the show, and we should just “enjoy it for what it is.”
Did you have a good time? That’s all that matters.
While I try to remember that, you can tweet me @kickyhick or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And here’s a test to see if you read this far: in the comments below, post your favourite set design, entrance song, or video package!